Welcome back to our literary tour through the pages of my novels. Once again, we’re in the centre of Liverpool, with a fine view of the Town Hall in front of us. The insurance office where I started my first ‘proper’ job is just around the corner on Exchange Street East. The building has been converted into a Travelodge, which I find rather weird. You can take a peek at it here – see the old company logo carved into the stonework over the front door? How strange to stay in a building in which you once worked!
Anyway, that’s not why we’re here. We’re just going to pop through one of the doorways on the right of the picture into a warm and slightly stuffy basement café, and take a peek at one of my favourite scenes from You’ll Never Walk Alone. The café will have changed beyond all recognition now, but the way I describe it was pretty much the way it was when we used to pop out from the office for a lunchtime tea and toasted teacake, long before the time when central Liverpool became a trendy, ‘go-to’ destination.
All done? Well, let’s jump on the No 82 bus and travel out to the leafy suburbs of south Liverpool.
This rather sad-looking building is where my husband and I first rented a flat together (it was a little bit smarter back then). The house is at the end of a long driveway and there was a rambling woodland garden on one side, long gone now. The area is occupied by some rather nice retirement flats. You can just make it out in Google Maps Street View.
The house originally belonged to Sir Ronald Ross, the man who discovered that malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes. Later the building was sold and it became a nightclub, and so it gets a passing mention in my book excerpt below.
Now, onto the story – look out for my little ‘Hitchcockian’ cameo too!
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
Gina had almost finished her coffee. Mollie, her mother, was late as usual. She fiddled with the teaspoon in her saucer and stared around the gloomy interior of the subterranean cafeteria, at its brown banquettes and Formica-topped tables. Dreary pictures of sad-looking landscapes lined the walls. The place was stuck in the 1970s. Not a good decade for Liverpool, (not that the 80s were turning out to be much better so far). Gina wondered what it was about this particular establishment which made it her mother’s favourite lunchtime meeting place. Maybe some tie from the past. Well, that was apt, Gina thought, as she took the photocopied photo from her bag; the one with her mother, her long-time friend Marie and various members of the Kingston Jazz Cats, including Godrell Clarke, the man Mollie claimed was Gina’s father.
The sound of Mollie’s voice preceded her as she tottered down steps from Castle Street in her high heels. “Oh Marie, you know who I mean, the one with the face like a robber’s dog.” Gina rolled her eyes, glancing at the woman at the next table, who had been sitting pen in hand, gazing at the notebook in front of her. The woman looked up at the two women as they made their entrance and suddenly started writing.
“Here she is!” Marie started waving at Gina as she bustled her way through the tables. She was hard to miss in her bright pink coat. “Gina, love, sorry we’re late.” Marie plonked a couple of carrier bags down on the floor before easing her way between table top and banquette to sit opposite Gina. “Bargains,” she announced proudly, “you should get along to T J Hughes’s and have a look. I got a smashing skirt and a few little tops, all for a tenner.”
Mollie arrived more sedately and sat down next to Marie. “Ouch, my feet are killin’ me.” She slipped off her shoes under the table and flexed her stockinged toes.
“You didn’t walk from TJ’s in those new shoes of yours, did you, Ma?”
“No, love, of course not, we got the bus, but it’s still a tidy walk from the stop in Dale Street.” Mollie reached down and rubbed her left foot. “I think I’ve got a bunion coming.”
The waitress hovered beside the table. “What can I get you, ladies?”
“What’s the soup today?” asked Mollie.
Mollie pulled a face.
“We’ve got sandwiches: cheese and ham, cheese and tomato, ham and tomato. Or there’s scones or toasted teacakes.” The waitress reeled off the limited menu.
“Toasted teacake and a tea, please,” said Marie.
“Same for me,” said Gina.
Mollie paused, screwing up her eyes in an effort of indecision. “Yes, I’ll have that too,” she said eventually. “And make it a pot of tea, for three.”
The waitress nodded and scribbled on her pad before wandering back to the serving counter.
“How’s Gary, love?” asked Marie, leaning across the table.
“Fine, thanks,” Gina smiled, remembering the wicked look on his face as they’d tumbled into bed the previous evening.
“Oh look at that. Isn’t that just the cat that got the cream last night,” said Mollie loudly,
“Ma, shush,” Gina said, glancing at the woman at the next table. Her head was bent over her notebook, busy writing.
“What’s the matter, love?” said Mollie innocently.
“You’re embarrassing me.”
“No ring on your finger yet?” Marie put in.
“Not yet, Auntie Marie,” Gina smiled sweetly, covering her irritation.
“Oh, I wish you’d drop the ‘auntie’, Gina,” said Marie, “you make me feel like a hundred years old.”
Gina laughed. “Okay, I’ll try to remember.” She picked up the photo and slid it across the table. “Now, look. Here’s what I wanted you to see.”
Both women leaned forward and peered at the grainy photocopy. There was silence for a full two minutes, probably a record for those two, thought Gina. She looked over at the woman at the next table; she was gazing into space again.
‘Well?” said Gina, impatient for a reaction.
“Oh my word,” said Marie. “Don’t we look young?”
“We were young. Younger than our Gina is now.” Mollie stroked the face of the man holding the saxophone. “Here he is, my Godrell.” She had a dreamy look in her eyes. “He was so gorgeous, and he fell for me.”
“…and then left you.” Gina put in.
Mollie ignored her. “What were the others’ names, Marie? This one with the trumpet?” Mollie tapped the photo with a red-painted nail, “Deon something…”
“No, Deon was the guitarist. That’s Dixon. Dixon Jones played the trumpet.” Marie smiled. “He had a bit of thing for me, remember?”
There was a pause while the waitress set out the cups and saucers. “The teacakes are just coming,” she said as she set down a large stainless steel teapot before heading back to the serving counter.
“Where was the picture taken?” asked Gina.
“It was a dance hall,” said Marie, “near Sefton Park somewhere, wasn’t it?” she turned to Mollie.
“I don’t remember…” Mollie shook her head.
The food arrived. Mollie poked her teacake with a knife. She looked up at the waitress and smiled. “Lovely. Thanks, love.” The waitress mumbled something as she turned away.
Marie continued: “It was up this long drive. A big white building, with French doors to the garden outside. You must remember. You’d disappeared outside with Godrell that time…”
Mollie’s face lit up with recognition. “Oh yes…”
Gina noticed a red flush travel up her mother’s neck. “Really, Ma?”
“You can mind your own business, my girl,” said Mollie. Although she spoke sharply, she had a twinkle in her eye. She busied herself buttering her teacake.
Gina took a bite of her own teacake and decided to change the subject. “What about you and the trumpet player, Marie?”
“Oh, that never came to anything, love. I’d met my Jimmy by then.” The three women cast their eyes down. Jimmy had been killed in an accident at the docks when Gina was nine. He and three other men had entered the cargo hold of a ship which was full of logs. One of the others had slipped and fallen into a gap between the logs. Jimmy had tried to rescue him, but he too had disappeared into the narrow spaces between the logs. When the two men were eventually brought out by the shore fire brigade, both had died of suffocation.
Gina smiled sadly. Her uncle Jimmy had been a great favourite of hers, always cracking jokes and bringing her sweets.
Marie rubbed her hand across her face and turned her attention back to the photo. “Just look at what we’re wearing… and your hairdo, Mollie.” She turned to Gina, “you know, your mother was the first girl to have a beehive in South Liverpool.”
Mollie laughed. “All that lacquer, it set hard like a bloody helmet.”
“You know why our handbags are all lined up on the table like that?” Marie looked at Gina. Gina shook her head. “We had those miniatures of gin behind them, but all you can see are the tonic bottles.” She threw back her head and laughed. “What a time, we had.”
Photo credits: liverpool.echo.co.uk, boomin.com